This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

God's Will

Strasbourg, France

                           Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Mattthew 7:21

God's will or the will of my Father in heaven is something we find throughout the gospels.  If God is a mysterious figure, surely God's will is even more mysterious.  But however mysterious it might be, God's will is essential to the Kingdom of heaven, the world to which Jesus called his followers.  The Our Father is a prayer that all Christians say.  In it they say to God "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  So what is God's will, in general and in specific circumstances?

There are two ways God's will has been understood, one biblical and one not.  We hear the second meaning when something happens that is tragic or difficult or not desired by us.  A person dies and the grieving relatives are told it was God's will.  The death is either mercifully short or excuriatingly long.  That was God's will.  God has a plan for everyone and every circumstance and that plan will come to completion because God is omnipotent, all knowing, and unchanging.  The problem is that it often means that God causes pain and suffering because it is somehow part of God's plan.  It suggests a sadistic rather than merciful God.  We don't like to hear that for all sorts of reasons, most importantly because it is not scripturally sound.

In the New Testament, the word translated as will is better understood as desire or wish.  That is the core meaning of the Greek word "thelema."  It certainly makes more sense when it is used in the quote above.  "The one who does the desire of my Father in heaven."  A more idiomatic translation would be "the one who does what my Father in heaven desires."  When you read God's will or some variant in the Gospels, substitute a more accurate "what God desires."  It makes more sense and is more relevant to our lives.

So what does God desire us to do?  Jesus was asked this question and gave an unambiguous answer.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40

God's will for us is right there.  God desires that we recognize the existence of the Divine Being who is the source of all life and to take care of our fellow human beings and by extension all of creation as though we were taking care of ourselves.   God has this desire for all human beings.  If we all acted on those desires, then indeed the Kingdom of Heaven would be here on earth.

When I was young, I was taught that God is an omnipotent being for whom nothing was impossible.  If God's will means the plan God is implementing in the world, then how does it happen that it doesn't exist.  If nothing is impossible for God, what happened?  This omnipotent source of all life endowed each human being with free will.  We can and must choose to live a life in line with God's desire or not.  Our free will limits God's power.  God chooses not to force us to live out God's desire for us because what would be the point.

So the next time, someone says "It was the will of God" to explain tragedy or death, remember that God's will is not about that but rather a call to us to live our lives in the way Jesus described and in the way that Jesus did.

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